The vision in this chapter of God’s people knowing his presence with them in a very powerful way and people from many nations coming to them works on three levels. First, it most obviously relates to the exiles returning from Babylon but the language here surpasses this restoration of God’s people to Jerusalem because the experience of the years from Nehemiah onwards never lived up to this. Second, it is appropriate to understand the striking descriptions of God with his people in a glorious way with people from many nations being drawn to them to be something that speaks of what came to pass with the coming of Jesus as the embodiment of the glory of God and the international spread of the gospel. Third, it makes sense to take this material about God dwelling with his people and a restored Jerusalem as finding its truest fulfilment in terms of the New Jerusalem depicted in Revelation 21, an image the Church in the age to come in the context of the new heaven and new earth!
So the two main emphases of the chapter are God’s presence with his people and the many coming from the nations to honour God. The opening and close of the chapter start with the focus on God’s glory in the midst of his people. For those returning from exile this would of course be a tremendous sign of God’s grace and favour towards them, although beyond this primary application is surely an allusion to God present in the person of Jesus, nothing less that the embodiment of God’s presence on earth and one who came to be the light of the world who calls his Church to be the same as a community marked by the Holy Spirit amongst them. Of course, ultimately as we have noted, this all finds its fulfilment in the terms of the people of God in the new creation.
In the last verses the image of perpetual light coming from the glory of God resident in Jerusalem anticipates the description of the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21:23-25. The reference to eternal possession of the land relates to the promise of land to Abraham and the idea of a vast increase in numbers has already been mentioned in 51:2 and 54:3, both passages having the promise to Abraham of numerous descendants as their background. The clear allusions to these two fulfilments of the covenant with Abraham in terms of many descendants and possession of land are to be understood in terms of the ultimate destiny of the Church comprising people from every tribe and nation and inheriting the whole earth by way of the new creation!
The second emphasis is that of people from other nations flocking to the restored community of God’s people including bearing children with them, bringing gifts of goods to help rebuild Jerusalem and as an act of worship. Now, something of this happened with the restoration of the city under Nehemiah but there was also a lot of opposition to the rebuilding programme from surrounding people groups who didn’t like the idea of Israel’s capital recovering her former prestige in that region. Further ahead, Jesus would be brought three gifts from the wise men from the east on the event of his birth and the Church would impact the nations thereafter, with the Gentiles (non-Jews) coming to be living stones (see 1 Peter 2:5) joined with Jewish Christians as the New Covenant people of God. But beyond even this we have in view here the stunning realities of the New Jerusalem of Revelation which represents God’s people in the age to come existing in the perfection and peace of God’s presence in the new heaven and the new earth. By way of example of this ultimate fulfilment of this incredible vision being the Church of Jesus in the age to come, the image of Jerusalem’s open doors to people from the nations (verse 11) is taken-up by John in his portrait of the heavenly Jerusalem in Revelation 21:22-26.
Wow! So there was a measure of God’s glory with the exiles back in Jerusalem, but then there was something beyond that with the incarnation as Jesus came to dwell amongst men and the Church saw the nations being added into this New Covenant community of faith, but ultimately God’s people from every tribe and tongue truly knowing his glorious presence is something that awaits the return of Jesus and the new creation!
Prayer: Let’s pray that the presence and kingdom of God will increasingly been seen in our neighbourhood, our town, our country and the whole earth! If you are out on a walk today, pray as you walk for Holy Spirit’s presence and power to bring revelation and salvation to the people of our area particularly.